Q: Water companies are privatized in England and Wales. is this common
a: Not really – even Scotland has national water supplies. It is unusual for the water supply to be entirely privately operated. In many European countries, such as France, utilities are run by public-private partnerships. In others, like Spain, the problem is somewhat developed, with some towns being served by private companies and the rest of the country being served by the public water supply.
Public ownership advocates say water is an important resource that needs to be considered. The government should be able to control in a crisis. Some point to the odd situation in England, where the government is urging water companies to ban hose lines but cannot force them to do so – and they are refusing.
Question: So the UK government cannot force the water companies to do anything. What does that mean for the supply?
a: The big idea behind privatization is that it makes a profit that can be funneled back into infrastructure, giving us shiny new pipes, lots of reservoirs, and absolutely no leaks. Obviously that hasn’t happened – the shareholders behind the water companies in England and Wales have become incredibly wealthy because too much profit is being used to upgrade our infrastructure rather than pay for it. There is an exception in Welsh waters (dar simru), which is a non-profit corporation.
The Angling Trust is campaigning for new reservoirs so we don’t have to keep our precious chalk streams dry – but the last time before privatization a larger reservoir was built.
Reservoirs are expensive to build and it will cost billions to rebuild our pipes to stop them leaking. As a result, we have an infrastructure that was built to support the population of a few decades ago, not the large one that we have now.
Question: So in France, where only about 9,000 people are only served by private water companies and not by public-private partnerships or public companies, they have to be completely submerged?
a: of course not. This year, France has been hit hard by the European drought and has imposed water restrictions across the country. This is partly due to the public scrutiny of the water that the government has been able to exercise, but they are also in a very bad position in terms of supply.
This week, 100 villages had no running water, meaning they had to get their supplies from government-provided tanks parked in town centers.
France is a big country and it is difficult at the best of times to divert water from wetlands to dry areas, especially when this problem develops and you treat water differently in different communities.
Q: What about leaks? How bad are we compared to other countries?
a: Leaks are a problem across Europe. Just as private companies don’t think about building roads to replace pipes, governments want to save money and not cause disruption. Italian government ministers recently claimed that up to 42 percent of water supplies run through pipes. According to a recent analysis, it is about a quarter in England. In Ireland, where water has been nationalised, Dublin recently topped the ranking for the worst spill of any European city.
Question: Is it cheap for countries Less privatization?
a: If the government has some control over the water supply, it can prevent prices from spiraling out of control. For example, Italy has a hybrid system of public and private water utilities. The average monthly water bill is €20, which is around £17. In England it is £34.
However, the price of water in Italy is largely low, according to the OECD, and Italians appear to have a laissez-faire approach to their supply – they are the most commonly used in Europe at over 200 liters per person per day. This equates to around 150 liters per day in England.
This article was amended on 14 August 2022 to include the fact that Welsh Water (dar simru) is a non-profit company.